Does Environmental Law Pay Well? An In-Depth Look At Salaries And Job Outlook

If you are considering a career in environmental law, one of the biggest questions you probably have is whether it pays well or not. Environmental law is a niche field, and salary prospects are not as clear cut as some other legal careers. In this comprehensive guide, we will analyze the key factors that impact how much you can earn as an environmental lawyer.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: the average salary for environmental lawyers in the U.S. is approximately $89,000 per year. However, salaries can vary widely based on your level of experience, size of law firm, and geographic location.

Average Salary for Environmental Lawyers

Environmental law is a specialized field that deals with legal issues related to the environment and natural resources. Many individuals are drawn to this field due to their passion for protecting the planet and making a positive impact. However, one important consideration for those considering a career in environmental law is the potential salary.

Entry-Level Salaries

As with any profession, environmental lawyers typically start their careers at entry-level positions. The average salary for entry-level environmental lawyers can vary depending on factors such as location, firm size, and level of experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for lawyers overall was $126,930 as of May 2020. However, it’s important to note that this figure includes lawyers from all specialties, and salaries for environmental lawyers may differ.

While specific data on entry-level salaries for environmental lawyers is limited, it’s safe to assume that starting salaries may be lower than the overall median for lawyers. However, gaining experience and building a reputation in the field can lead to increased earning potential as one progresses in their career.

Mid-Career Salaries

As environmental lawyers gain experience and establish themselves in the field, their earning potential typically increases. Mid-career salaries for environmental lawyers can vary significantly depending on factors such as the size and reputation of the law firm, the geographical location, and the lawyer’s expertise.

According to PayScale, the average mid-career salary for environmental lawyers ranges from $75,000 to $150,000 per year. However, it’s important to note that these figures are approximate and can vary based on various factors. It’s also worth mentioning that lawyers who specialize in highly specialized areas of environmental law, such as renewable energy or climate change, may have higher earning potential due to the demand for their expertise.

Late-Career Salaries

As environmental lawyers reach the later stages of their careers, their salaries can continue to increase. Late-career salaries for environmental lawyers are influenced by factors such as years of experience, reputation, and achievements in the field.

According to the American Bar Association, the median salary for environmental lawyers with over 20 years of experience is around $150,000 per year. However, it’s important to note that salaries can vary significantly based on various factors, including location and the size and prestige of the law firm.

Factors That Impact Environmental Law Salaries

When it comes to determining salaries in the field of environmental law, several factors come into play. These factors can have a significant impact on how much an environmental lawyer can earn. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key factors that influence salaries in this field.

Experience Level

One of the most important factors that determine an environmental lawyer’s salary is their level of experience. Generally, lawyers with more years of experience tend to earn higher salaries. As lawyers gain expertise and build a strong reputation in the field, they become more valuable to their clients or employers, which often translates into higher pay. Additionally, experienced environmental lawyers may have the opportunity to take on higher-profile cases or work on complex environmental issues, which can further contribute to their earning potential.

Job Setting

The type of organization or setting in which an environmental lawyer works can also impact their salary. Environmental lawyers can be employed in various settings, including law firms, government agencies, non-profit organizations, or corporate legal departments. Salaries may vary depending on the size and prestige of the organization, as well as the resources available. For example, lawyers working in large law firms or multinational corporations may generally earn higher salaries compared to those working in smaller firms or non-profit organizations.


Location is another significant factor that influences environmental law salaries. Salaries can vary significantly depending on the geographic region. For instance, lawyers working in major cities or metropolitan areas where the demand for environmental legal services is high may earn higher salaries compared to those working in rural areas. The cost of living in a particular location can also impact salaries, as higher living expenses may be reflected in higher wages.


The area of specialization within environmental law can also affect salaries. Environmental law is a broad field with various sub-specialties, such as climate change law, water law, or land use law. Lawyers who have specialized knowledge and expertise in a specific area may have a competitive advantage when it comes to salary negotiation. Clients or employers may be willing to pay a premium for lawyers who possess specialized skills and can provide valuable insights in their area of expertise.

It’s important to note that while these factors can significantly influence salaries in environmental law, individual circumstances and market conditions can also play a role. It’s always a good idea to research current market trends and consult with professionals in the field to gain a better understanding of the salary range for environmental lawyers in a particular area or sector.

Job Outlook for Environmental Law

When considering a career in environmental law, it’s important to understand the job outlook and potential growth opportunities in the field. Let’s take a closer look at the projected job growth and competition for jobs in this specialized legal sector.

Projected Job Growth

The demand for environmental lawyers is expected to grow in the coming years due to increased awareness and concern about environmental issues. As governments, organizations, and individuals become more conscious of their environmental impact, the need for legal professionals with expertise in environmental law will continue to rise.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of lawyers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. While this data does not specifically focus on environmental law, it does indicate a positive overall trend in the legal industry, which can be applicable to environmental law as well.

With the growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental regulations, companies and organizations are increasingly in need of legal counsel to ensure compliance with environmental laws and regulations. This provides ample opportunities for environmental lawyers to work in private law firms, corporate legal departments, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.

Competition for Jobs

As with any legal field, competition for jobs in environmental law can be intense. Environmental law is considered a specialized area of law, requiring a deep understanding of both legal principles and environmental science. Therefore, individuals with a strong educational background and relevant work experience will have a competitive advantage in the job market.

However, it’s worth noting that the demand for environmental lawyers is expected to outweigh the supply of qualified professionals in the coming years. This creates favorable conditions for aspiring environmental lawyers, as it increases the chances of securing employment and potentially negotiating higher salaries.

To enhance your job prospects in environmental law, it’s recommended to pursue internships or clerkships in environmental law firms, government agencies, or non-profit organizations. These experiences can provide valuable hands-on experience, networking opportunities, and a deeper understanding of the field.

Pros and Cons of an Environmental Law Career


Choosing a career in environmental law can be a rewarding and fulfilling path. Here are some advantages to consider:

  • Contribution to society: As an environmental lawyer, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the world by advocating for the protection of the environment and promoting sustainable practices.
  • Job stability: With increasing concerns about climate change and environmental degradation, the demand for environmental lawyers is expected to grow. This means that job opportunities in this field are likely to be plentiful.
  • Varied work: Environmental law covers a wide range of issues, including pollution, land use, water rights, and renewable energy. This diversity allows you to work on different cases and tackle various environmental challenges.
  • Intellectual stimulation: Environmental law requires critical thinking, research, and problem-solving skills. You’ll constantly be learning and applying legal principles to complex environmental issues.
  • Potential for high salaries: While salaries can vary depending on factors such as experience and location, environmental lawyers can earn competitive salaries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for lawyers in 2020 was $126,930.


While a career in environmental law has its benefits, there are also some disadvantages to consider:

  • Long hours and high stress: Like any legal profession, environmental law can be demanding and may require long hours of work to meet deadlines and prepare cases.
  • Competitive job market: Due to the popularity of environmental law, competition for job positions can be intense. Building a strong network and gaining relevant experience can be crucial for success in this field.
  • Complexity of cases: Environmental law cases often involve intricate scientific and technical concepts. Understanding and presenting complex information can be challenging.
  • Emotional toll: Working on environmental cases can be emotionally draining, as you may witness the negative impacts of human activities on the environment. It requires resilience and the ability to cope with potentially disheartening situations.

Ultimately, deciding whether a career in environmental law is right for you depends on your interests, passion for environmental issues, and willingness to face the challenges that come with the profession. It is recommended to research and gain practical experience in the field before making a final decision.


In summary, a career in environmental law can be lucrative, with average salaries nearing or exceeding $100,000 for experienced lawyers. However, beginning salaries are more modest, and you may need to pay your dues working for non-profits or the government initially. The job outlook is strong due to increased regulations, but landing an environmental law job can be competitive. By weighing the pros and cons, you can determine if practicing environmental law aligns with your career goals and financial needs.

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